Most writers know the sting of criticism. We know it's going to come. When we believe in our writing, we also want to believe in everything we've written. Historical fiction novelist Deborah Swift has talked here about the importance of developing a thick skin. As avant-garde blackly comic crime author Aliya Whiteley discovered, though, that no matter how good a writer you are, you need to be open to criticism. You can be a good writer and still need to change what you're currently writing:
Before I was a crime writer I was a sci-fi writer. Before that, when my first novella was published, I was an experimental writer. And before that I was a writer of terrible romances.
I'm glad to say this romantic claptrap stage did not last long, but it did give birth to three particularly ugly manuscripts which I'm determined to keep locked up in a cupboard forever-more. But writing terrible romances taught me a lot about pace, and structure, and character; the form of the romance novel is not flexible, so I learned the craft of telling a story in which the hero must kiss the heroine by chapter two and they have to have moved on to at least third base by the end of novel, while having some sort of reason to keep bumping into each other that doesn't overshadow the kissie bits.
One of these horrible efforts actually made it to the acceptance stage. Caught By The Cougar (I told you it was terrible) got picked up by a brand new E-Book publisher back in the days when nobody bought E-Books. And a professional editor got her mitts on my ugly baby. She ripped it to shreds, and rightly so, but boy, did it hurt. I seriously considered ignoring her thousands of comments - after all, I had written a book and someone was going to publish it, so it had to be brilliant already, right? - but in the end, common sense overcame my ego and I got down to the business of making all my passive sentences active, and taking out most of the awful adverbs, and tightening up the pace where it flagged, and slowing it down when the hero and heroine got to the making out stage. I learned a huge amount from that experience, and I am undoubtedly a better writer because of it. I spent months making changes, and at the end of it, I had a book that wasn't bad. It still wasn't good, but it wasn't bad. Of course, my careful editing took so long that by the time I returned the manuscript the E-publisher had already folded.
When someone really criticises your baby, you want to put your hands over your ears and pretend that they're an idiot who didn't understand the first thing about your writing. But learning to be open to criticism and to act on it when necessary - this is what turns an amateur into a professional, I think. It's a painful process. But I'm glad I went through it.
I'm also glad it was never published. But that's a retrospective gladness.
Aliya Whiteley is the author of Three Things About Me and Light Reading, both also available in the US after-market. Light Reading is also available on Kindle.